One day I was having lunch with a church leader. I was still fairly new to Children’s Ministry & (in hindsight) assumed everyone understood why Children’s Ministry was so important. Prior to our lunch, I had given him a copy of George Barna’s book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, to read hoping it would somehow help our strained working relationship. At lunch that day he told me, “Now I get why Children’s Ministry is important and matters to the church.” All I could think was, “Wait, what?! No wonder we are struggling; you never thought Children’s Ministry mattered in the first place.” It became clear why our relationship had been strained over the previous year and a half: we did not view the importance of Children’s Ministry the same. You don’t know what you don’t know, and he didn’t know he didn’t know.
Unfortunately, I know my experience is not abnormal. I’ve heard too many similar stories. We often find ourselves defending Children’s Ministry in various ways to those who don’t “get it” – to leadership, parents, volunteers, budget committees, etc. It’s exhausting. And frustrating. But when we can step back objectively and acknowledge that not everyone is as passionate about Children’s Ministry as we are nor have they done the research, reading or training or been called to this ministry by God, we can calmly & with rational brains help others catch the vision for this crazy powerful mission God has given us.
So, next time you find yourself in one of “those” conversations – yet again – here are some talking points from the experts to help you keep from saying aloud the non-constructive replies flooding your mind.
- Because children matter to God.
“Children matter! They matter to God. They matter to the church of Jesus Christ. They matter because of who they are: children are complete human beings made in the image of God.” (Bruner & Pemberton) Still didn’t convince them? Try any one of these: Deut. 4:9-10; 6:1-3, 7, 20-21; 7:13; 31:12-13; Exod. 12:26; Psalm 8:2; 78:4-7; 34:11; Prov. 22:6; 3:11-12; Matt. 21:15-16; 18:1-6; 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16.
- Children are disciples. “Research regarding all facets of moral and spiritual development – whether related to worldview, beliefs or behaviors – shows that such development starts as early as age two. The process then progresses rather quickly. Social scientists have known for years that the moral foundations of children are generally determined by the time the individual reaches age nine. Our research confirms a parallel outcome in the spiritual dimension: By age nine, most children have their spiritual moorings in place. The implication of these findings is clear: Anyone who wishes to have significant influence on the development of a person’s moral and spiritual formation had better exert that influence while the person is … still young.” (Barna, emphasis added)
“Created in the image of God, children are not merely wet cement into which adults impress the mark of their lives lived in Christ. Children, too, are disciples in God’s kingdom. Jesus, who holds children up as models of kingdom greatness, has much to say about the place of children in his kingdom. If then children are created in the image of God and Jesus makes a special place for them in his kingdom, then those two realities alone must shape and inform the spiritual environments of children. The home and the church must become interlocking systems that invite children deeper into the life of the Spirit. For all disciples, young and old, are on the Way. We journey as co-pilgrims with children, side-by-side teaching, enriching, inviting, and inspiring all who have been called to participate. The kingdom pilgrimage is an amazing journey that is simply incomplete without the beauty and wonder of children.” (Bruner & Pemberton)
- Children are examples of how to enter into the Kingdom of God.
“We learn also that Jesus holds up children as examples of kingdom values…By doing so, Jesus reveals the great difference between the kingdoms of the world and the kingdom of God. The Greeks and Romans viewed children as raw material to be formed, or uninformed beings to be educated. Jews believed children needed teaching and discipline so that they would learn to live like their ancestors and the adults in the faith community. However, Jesus holds up children as teachers for adults. Within the kingdom of God, adults are challenged to be open to learn from children and others who are the least.” (Bruner & Pemberton)
- Children’s Ministry supports & equips families.
“…the spiritual development of children is first and foremost the responsibility of parents…[therefore] the resources used by the church in its ministry to young people [should be] designed to prepare parents for greater effectiveness, to advance existing efforts by the parents, to serve as a catalyst for new developmental ventures attempted by the family and to enhance the quality of the approaches and exercises used to mature children’s faith.” (Barna)
- Our time with children is short.
If a child attends church every Sunday from birth until they graduate from high school, we have 936 Sundays with them. We can never compete with the amount of time & influence a child’s parents will have but the time we spend with them still matters. Reggie Joiner says, “When you see how much time you have left, you tend to do more with the time you have now.” We don’t have time to waste. We have to make each week count. We have to help kids encounter God in deeply meaningful, intentional & powerful ways.
- We are setting them on a path of life-long trajectory.
Which direction do we want to send them? “A series of studies we conducted regarding the age at which people accept Christ as their Savior highlights the importance of having people invite Jesus into their heart as their Savior when they are young. We discovered that the probability of someone embracing Jesus as his or her Savior was 32% for those between the ages of 5 & 12; 4% for those in the 13-18 age range; and 6% for people 19 or older. In other words, if people do not embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior before they reach their teenage years, the chance of their doing so at all is slim…by the age of 13, your spiritual identity is largely set in place…My tracking of religious beliefs and behavior for more than a quarter century has revealed that the spiritual condition of adolescents and teenagers changes very little, if at all, as they age.” (Barna)
What you do matters. It’s important. Research completed by numerous experts proves it. Keep fighting for your kids & families. Even when no one buys in. Even when budgets are cut. Again. Even when you’re exhausted. God is fighting for you and your sweet babies. Don’t give up. It matters too much.